Broilers, Spring 2013

As usual, the chicken process would not be possible without the help of neighbors and friends, so THANKS! to all those that helped this year!

This was not the most successful batch due to some pretty horrible weather conditions when the chicks were small, but these were the largest birds we’ve ever raised.  The average weight was 6.1lbs and the mean weight was 6.5lbs.  We had two that weighed in at 7.75lbs and several that were 7lbs or larger.  The ration was a bit different this year, with oats being substituted for wheat, but we’re not sure whether to attribute the large sizes to the ration or the genetics.  Some of the genetics were most certainly different this year with several of the birds having a band of dark feathers along the tops of their wings and others having some dark feathers on their heads.  This is the first batch that we’ve done start to finish at our farm and the forage available to them may have had something to do with it as well.  It will be interesting to see how the next batch turns out!

Oops, I forgot to write about the broilers!

Wow! I never got around to making a journal entry for our Spring 2011 broilers! We did one batch of broilers this year in the spring and processed near the beginning of June. It was a pretty successful batch and I think we finally got our ration to a reasonably repeatable formula. The broilers did very well and I went and looked up the numbers so we could share them! We were VERY pleased with the outcome of this batch. It was the first and last batch of 2011 since we’re focusing more of our time on the house construction, but this next spring we plan to be raising broilers at the farm, so on pickup day when you come by and sit on the porch and visit and we’ll have a little more room and more chairs. Enough with the formalities, here are the numbers:
# of chickens processed: 86
age of chickens: 8 weeks, 0.5 days
culls: 1
birds >= 5lb: 76 (86%)
birds < 4lb: 3 (3.5%) average dressed bird weight: 5.93lb median dressed bird weight: 6.0lb lb of feed used: 2000lb total weight of dressed birds: 505.49lb THE BIGGIE ... feed conversion ratio: 3.96 lbs of feed to 1 lb of dressed bird!!!

Time to Make Chicken Stock

The weather cooled off considerably so I can turn my attention to making chicken stock and heating up the kitchen with my Grandmother’s old, trusty, avocado green stove. So I will break out the necks, backs, and other miscellaneous chicken parts I have in the freezer and shortly my house will smell like delicious chicken soup.

My “recipe” for stock was adapted from this recipe below but I typically use what I have without getting uptight about the preciseness of measurements. I like to freeze it in 2 cup increments which make it easy to use in recipes later.

One note on food safety…..warm stock can be a breeding ground for bacteria so it is very important for the strained broth to be brought to room temperature quickly and then promptly put in the freezer or the refrigerator. I always make sure that I bring any reheated stock to a boil for a few minutes just to be on the safe side.

If you have any questions, just let me know!

Chicken Stock
(Adapted from Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread, A Country Inn Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon copyright 1992)

4-5 pounds chicken, preferably from 1 stewing hen or the necks, wings, backs, and feet from young hens
2 medium onions, unpeeled and quartered
8 whole cloves
3 ribs celery with leaves, each broken in 2 or 3 big pieces
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut in large chunks
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 ½ teaspoons salt
6-8 black peppercorns
Large pinch each of dried rosemary, thyme, basil, sage and savory
3-3 ½ quarts water
1-2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar

1. Rinse the hen or chicken parts leaving the skin on but removing any big lumps of fat. Place the chicken pieces in the pot.
2. Stud each onion quarter with a clove. Surround the chicken with the studded onions and add all the other vegetables and seasonings. Pour over all the cold water and vinegar.
3. Bring the liquids gradually to a boil over medium heat then immediately turn down the heat and let simmer, uncovered, skimming any surface foam, for 2 ½ to 3 hours. Stir occasionally. You may replenish the water as it cooks down; otherwise, you will get a lesser amount of stock.
4. Remove the stock from the heat and strain into a clean container. Discard the solids. Let cool, uncovered, 30 minutes. If the weather is warm, speed up the cooling processing by placing it in a sink of cold water. Refrigerate or freeze the cooled stock immediately. You may defat the broth easily after chilling as the fat will form a skim on the surface. Simply remove before using the stock.

Broilers, Round Two

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve posted anything new, but here it is now! We have successfully finished round two of broilers, which will be the last round for the season. Our feed conversion ratio was 4.38:1, or 4.38lbs of feed for 1lb of dressed meat. There were some hiccups with the feed situation, but I think that we’ll be able to remedy them for the next round. One was the grind for the baby chicks was too coarse and the other was that we think that either the protein was too low, or there was a genetic abnormality with the birds because we had weights ranging from 1lb to 6lbs and they should have all been pretty close to 4.5, but they weren’t. We’ll just chalk this up to experience and try again next year. All in all not a bad round, just not everything we thought it would be.

New batch on the way

Well, the first round went well and now we’re going to try it again. A little differently this time… We are changing the ration fed to the chickens from the feed mill (using fish meal) to a totally local vegetarian certified organic ration. The feed is from Mr. Alfred Farris at Windy Acres Farm in Orlinda, TN, just 30 miles from us.  They are a certified organic grain producing farm and I think we’re lucky to have such an opportunity so close!  I picked up the ration on Monday and unloaded it into our little storage shed and it filled the WHOLE thing to the rafters.  I now have to find another place to put my layer feed and all the other chicken accoutrements like waterers and lamps and such.

Raising chickens so far is fun and I’m approaching it as an experiment, I am an engineer after all, and we’re trying to change as few variables as possible.  So for this next batch we’re changing the feed ration and the weather will be different.  I have also changed the pen very slightly to make it a bit easier to move, but I don’t think this will have any bearing on the experiment.  The weather this time is MUCH warmer than the last, so it will be an interpretation of results in the end and a challenge to attribute differences to either the weather or the food.

Our next batch of chickens arrives tomorrow or Saturday and we’re ready and excited!  Oh, here’s a picture of the feed stacked to the ceiling:

Feed to the roof!

Survey Time!

Thanks again for being willing to participate in our focus group and to share your feedback with us. Hopefully by now you have had a chance to try your chicken. If so, here is the link for you to complete a 10 question survey regarding your experience here. If not, please keep this email and complete it once you have.

Thank you, too, for your support and encouragement of our endeavors. It means a lot!

Judith and Jonathan

Got Recipes?

The chickens are coming this weekend and my idea of preparation is to raid the recipe box.  So I am lining up the chicken recipes that I already know are yummy like whole roasted chicken and several more I want to try such as pretzel coated fried chicken and spatchcock chicken.  The roasted chicken recipe is the recipe that turned me on to whole chicken in the first place and it will be handed out on processing day.  If you have any that you would like to pass along I would like to hear from you.  Please send them my way and I will post them on the website (once I figure out how!).

Death is a Bummer

We lost a chicken this morning.  Jonathan was moving the pen at dawn and one of them got caught under the edge as he slowly moved the pen to fresh grass.  My husband felt the accident keenly.  That is one of the many things I love about my husband.

When discussing the processing procedure with someone last week they said, “Jonathan does not seem like the type to enjoy that sort of thing.”  To which I replied, “He doesn’t.  He likes to eat.”

Have we gotten so far removed from our food that we forget that death is involved?  Some people do not want their meat to even remotely resemble an animal.  Maybe that is why the demand for boneless, skinless chicken breasts lead to the type of chicken whose legs will not support it once it reaches the optimum weight for processing.

I confess that meat is not one of my favorite things to prepare and I get a little grossed out by the blood.  However, I like the fact that our grass-fed cow smells clean – not like traditional meat from the store.  I like that we knew that this cow had a good life until his one very bad day.  I am looking forward to chicken whose history is known to me and am so grateful that we live in a land of plenty so there is chicken to share.

Death is my least favorite part of the pasture to table process but I am learning the difficult truth that death is as much a part of life as living.  Thankfully nothing is wasted in God’s economy.

Fresh Air, Sunshine and Free Range

I love fresh air and sunshine.  I guess that is one of the reasons I love to ride in my convertible.  The feel of the breeze on my skin, the wind ruffling my hair and the warmth of the sun are some of the many reasons it is fun to me as well as therapeutic if my attitude needs adjusting.

I think that is also why I really like the pen Jonathan built for the chicks. Three fourths of it is covered so that they can get in out of the rain but one fourth of it is open to the sun.  This morning they played in the sunshine but now during the heat of the day most of them are content to stay in the shade.  The sides are also open to the cross breeze in half of the pen so they can enjoy fresh air or move to the other side if the wind becomes too much for them.

I have heard that sunshine keeps germs at bay and helps animals stay healthy without antibiotics.  It seems like I’ve also heard it stimulates the pituitary gland that helps the chicks grow.  Sounds reasonable to me since the Lord created the sun and makes reference to keeping things in the light.

“But what about allowing them to free range?” some of you may ask.  Free range sounds great in theory but my friend Angie says it best.  “Free range seems to say ‘Come and get me’ to every hawk, owl, fox and weasel around that likes chicken.”  I like chicken, too, so the pen serves as their protection.  Some of the chicks had other ideas this morning while they were escaping from a small hole on the side.  I immediately looked outside to determine the location of our cat, Lucy.  She also likes chicken and birds and mice so I was relieved when Jonathan came home to place them back in safety.

It makes me smile when I look out the kitchen window and know that these chickens have the opportunity to be chickens in safety and peace.  And when the day comes for us to enjoy them in a different state we will know that they enjoyed a good life in the fresh air and sunshine.